To visit the convents of Oaxaca is to take a trip to a mysterious past, in which the sacred was mixed with the everyday. Here we present a journey through the splendor that is only found in these Oaxacan buildings.
Discover these three colonial treasures located in the towns of Coixtlahuaca, Yanhuitlán, and Teposcolula. Its marvelous architecture will surprise you!
Mass with a view of the sky
One of the first expressions of the architecture of the new world was the open chapels, the invention of the mendicant missions that allowed them to preach the new faith. The Indians were not accustomed to perform their religious services in the confinement; these chapels were one of the first physical symptoms of religious syncretism. The term “open chapel” was created by the historian Manuel Toussaint.
The “plain of the snakes”, the meaning of Coixtlahuaca, is a place that stands out for the absence of trees, for the distant view of the mountains and for the imposing structure of the former convent, whose church was finished in 1576. The open chapel has a classicist style, like that of Teposcolula.
“A space without subdivisions, with the addition of an elegant octagonal rib vault”, as described by the expert George Kubler. In the walls and arches, we can see real pre-Hispanic surprises: serpent frets, heads of indigenous gods … samples of the religious syncretic art that marked the new world.
The town of Coixtlahuaca is located northwest of the city of Oaxaca, 113 kilometers away, going by the super highway 131-D to Mexico City.
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The immense atrium of the church was erected where the platform of an indigenous temple once stood, a common practice during the American evangelization. The church, founded in 1529, has two superimposed facades: the original one, hidden from the public, which was plateresque style, and the current one, baroque, in which Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns are mixed, accompanied by niches with bas-reliefs saints and a central relief dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary. To know the original plateresque style, it is only necessary to observe the north gate that still conserves it.
Inside the church, the silence allows us to appreciate the beauty of the sacred art that composes it -work of the Sevillian artist Andrés de la Concha dating from the 16th century- and the beautiful central altarpiece that, together with the rest of the construction, was restored in 2012 by the INAH; of this restoration arose the site museum that owns the former convent.
18 kilometers west of Nochixtlán and 37 kilometers south of Tamazulapan. To get there, one option is to leave the city of Oaxaca, taking Highway 190. Tel. (952) 518 2452. It opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Cost of admission to the museum: $ 35 pesos.
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The most impressive of the three, the recently restored former convent of San Pedro and San Pablo Teposcolula (founded in 1538) stands out for its magnificent chapel of classical style. The set of columns, which seem to multiply once you are inside; the height of the roof, the view of the naked atrium of trees cause a real outburst of emotions, added to the sound of the bells and the occasional village music that comes from the distance to complete the experience.
It is 120 kilometers northwest of the city of Oaxaca, by the superhighway 131-D to Nochixtlán. To get there, you have to turn off to federal highway no. 190 to Huajuapan de León, until it connects with the town of Yucudaa, and continue on the left along federal highway no. 125 until you reach Teposcolula. Open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
What you should know…
When to travel? All year round: during the dry season it is easier to travel through the villages without risk of rain, although the landscape often looks much more rugged, while from May to October the Mixteca is in all its splendor.
Bonus: ex-convent of Cuilapam de Guerrero
The Dominican temple and the ex-convent of Cuilapam de Guerrero seem, in the distance, a fortress dominating the valley in which it is located. They were built on a small hill with spectacular views just 20 minutes from Oaxaca City with bus services available.
The wide walls of green quarry and river stones quietly keep much of the history of the meeting of different cultures: the Spanish, the Mixteca, and the Zapotec. There are wall paintings, mostly in black and white, on the interior walls of the ex-convent. There are also paintings of cures on the second floor.